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Cairns reaffirms for real reform in agriculture


Cairns Group reaffirms ambitions for real reform in agriculture

The Cairns Group’s strong call for ambitious agricultural reform in the WTO was most welcome, Trade Negotiations and Agriculture Minister Hon Jim Sutton, said after a meeting with key agricultural exporting colleagues in Cartagena, Colombia.

The Cairns Group was founded nearly twenty years ago on a vision of a fair and market-oriented world agriculture trading system.

“Many thought we were seeking utopia, not reality. But – with hard work – that vision is coming within reach. This meeting in Cartagena has showed our renewed determination to push on to our final goal,” said Mr Sutton.

“The Cairns Group is committed to this process. But we need a good deal – not just a deal,” the Minister cautioned.

Mr Sutton acknowledged the critical concession made last year by the European Union to eliminate export subsidies, the most harmful of all agricultural trade subsidies. “The agreement to export subsidy elimination was not easy for the EU but it was essential. Now we need to agree on the end date – in our view, there is no justification for elimination taking more than a few years.”

“But the really burning question is market access. Nothing is more fundamental to the world trading system. Nothing else will deliver a bigger development dividend. And for New Zealand, nothing else will bring our dairy, meat, wool, horticulture, wine and other agricultural sectors greater benefits.

“The Cairns Group has delivered a strong message on this – one which is fully consistent with the agreed WTO framework for the negotiations.

“Everyone except the least-developed countries in the world needs to contribute. We want concrete improvements in market access for all products in all markets. That includes the most sensitive products in the wealthiest parts of the world, like Europe and Japan. We have accepted the political reality that these products need flexibility – but that doesn’t mean a free pass from reform.

“Most countries in the Cairns Group are developing countries, and they’re prepared to put an offer on the table too. But developing countries can’t be expected to open themselves up to unbridled competition from rich farmers nourished by gargantuan subsidies to sumo wrestler proportions. There has to be a comprehensive reform, including real new access into OECD markets, the early elimination of export subsidies and big reductions in trade-distorting domestic support.

“Developing countries also need special and differential treatment targeted at their key food security and rural development needs – but we have agreed that these rules have to be designed so that they don’t block trade,” the Minister said.

Mr Sutton noted that, although the meeting was focused on agriculture, Ministers had recognised the global perspective. “Everyone in this WTO negotiation is going to have to make difficult decisions. That can only be done if there is a big, balanced overall deal which includes not only agriculture but also industrial goods, services and a host of other issues, and delivers a win/win outcome for all.”

The Cairns Group is chaired by Australia and includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Uruguay. It met from 30 March to 1 April in Cartagena, Colombia.

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